The Yawning Gun

The Yawning Gun

How many smoking guns are needed before it really is a smoking gun? How many lies can be officially documented before the public starts to furrow its brow and realize that something is just not right?

The blogosphere is exploding (it always is, actually) with the revelations of the so-called Downing Street memo, a document that surfaced recently before the British elections but came out in July 2002. The memo recounts the minutes of a meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the leader of MI-6, Sir Richard Dearlove, returning from a trip in Washington where the decision to go to war had already been made. Moreover, the memo indicates that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” (You can read the memo here.)

It caused a great deal of consternation in Britain and in Europe, but did you hear about it? I didn’t think so, because what little mention there was of it was buried. (The memo’s authenticity, by the way, has already been vouched for.) Only when it came up in a question and answer period between George W. Bush and Tony Blair did the story start to gain some traction, although it took a piece in USA Today to get the ball rolling Even so, the contents of the memo has still not been aired on any of the country’s three major television network news outlets, and the New York Times – the “paper of record” – has yet to do a front-page story on it.

So here’s the famous question: where’s the outrage? The memo clearly indicates that the decision to go to war was fixed and that a case was being made around it. If the fix was in, isn’t Mr. Bush a liar for having spent so much time claiming that no decision had been made, that war was the last option? Is it now safe to say that yes, the American public was mislead about Iraq, resulting in a prolonged war with 1,700 military deaths and over 100,000 civilians killed as a direct result of the invasion?

It’s deeply ironic that the press, in taking a break from coverage of Michael Jackson’s molestation trial, would make such a big deal about the identity of “Deep Throat” and the Watergate scandal while choosing to remain oblivious to evidence of a decision to go to war. Even more so, bringing up memories of Watergate seemed like a bizarre joke since the media was no longer digging for the truth but becoming party to a lie. Were it that any of this was funny, because the war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold destruction and billions of dollars spent.

There’s little doubt that the media will engage in yet another round of soul searching, wherein fault is never admitted, but there is acknowledgement that mistakes were made. It’s a self delusional confessional that is supposed to somehow make everything better. It will all be done in relative silence, of course, because reporters do not like to admit their failures to anyone outside of their realm, so any thing resembling a mea culpa will be only in Editor & Publisher or trade magazines that don’t reach a public whom they’ve continually disserviced since Mr. Bush assumed power in 2000.

Not that the public should escape criticism in all of this, what with an expanding appetite for distraction and little concern for what is actually going on in Iraq. But it’s not the job of the public to expose the workings of government: that’s the occupation of the press. And while the media can be held at bay by a powerful executive, and be subjected to pressures by corporate owners, there is very little to justify such resounding silence in the face of not only the Downing Street memo, but entire “case” for war. Yet given the record, that might be wishing for too much.

And then it will be on the next missing white girl story.